ELIZABETHTOWN - Essex County lawmakers voted today to join five other counties in opposing state and federal legislation that mandates a switch to computerized voting systems.
The March 4 resolution comes in response to state election laws designed to satisfy the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, which, among other things, requires voting devices to be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Under the state's Election Reform and Modernization Act (ERMA), mechanical lever machines were to be phased out by September 2007 and replaced by electronic machines that offer better access to the blind and those in wheelchairs. The deadline was later extended to January 2010.
Citing their exorbitant cost and unproven reliability, Many in Essex County and elsewhere in New York are opposing the unfunded mandate.
"There's no doubt in my mind that the lever machines work without failure," said Essex County election commissioner Lewis Sanders, "and the security is much better than that of the computer systems."
The county spent nearly $12,000 apeice on more than 20 electronic voting systems last year, and Sanders said training election officers to set up the machines is extensive and costly.
A statewide movement to oppose the switch is being spearheaded by the Election Transparency Coalition, a citizen watchdog group on election procedures. Andrea Novick, legal counsel for ETC, spoke at the meeting, congratulating the supervisors on their decision.
"I'm really gratified that Essex County showed such leadership and am hoping it will encourage other counties to join," said Novick, "and ultimately to join in litigation with citizens to challenge the constitutionality of ERMA."
Novick said the switch wholly to computer voting machines was unnecessary because disabled voters could now use a ballot marking device, or BMD. The BMD provides a computer interface that creates a marked paper ballot. The ballots are then counted by hand on election night at the polling place.
The resolution requests that the State Legislature and Board of Elections enact the necessary laws to allow counties to keep their lever voting machines and use them in conjuction with BMDs; a proposal Novick said would satisfy HAVA requirements.
Similar resolutions have already been passed in Dutchess, Columbia, Ulster, Schuyler, and Greene Counties, as well as the New York Association of Towns. Novick said other counties are considering similar action.
"When you allow a computerized voting system where you can't see how the votes are counted, you open yourself up to fraud," said Novick, who is working with ETC to prepare litigation challenging ERMA on constitutional grounds.
Though computerized voting systems are required to print a paper record of votes, Novick said they still leave the door open for malfunction or tampering. She pointed to the extremely close results in the recent 20th Congressional District special election as further evidence for the importance of lever and paper ballot voting.
"I can't believe either [James] Tedisco or [Scott] Murphy would have accepted those results on a software system," she said.